Penile cancer: importance of circumcision, human papillomavirus and smoking in in situ and invasive disease

Int J Cancer. 2005 Sep 10;116(4):606-16. doi: 10.1002/ijc.21009.


Few population-based case-control studies have assessed etiologic factors for penile cancer. Past infection with high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) is a known risk factor for penile cancer; however, few previous studies have related the HPV DNA status of the tumor to potential demographic and behavioral risk factors for the disease or evaluated whether in situ and invasive penile cancer share risk factors. Little information is available on the role and timing of circumcision in the etiology of penile cancer. We conducted a population-based case-control study in western Washington state that included 137 men diagnosed with in situ (n = 75) or invasive (n = 62) penile cancer between January 1, 1979, and December 31, 1998, and 671 control men identified through random digit dialing. Cases and controls were interviewed in person and provided peripheral blood samples. Case and control blood samples were tested for antibodies to HPV16 and HSV-2, and tumor specimens from cases were tested for HPV DNA. Men not circumcised during childhood were at increased risk of invasive (OR = 2.3, 95% CI 1.3-4.1) but not in situ (OR = 1.1, 95% CI 0.6-1.8) penile cancer. Approximately 35% of men with penile cancer who had not been circumcised in childhood reported a history of phimosis compared to 7.6% of controls (OR = 7.4, 95% CI 3.7-15.0). Penile conditions such as tear, rash and injury were associated with increased risk of disease. Among men not circumcised in childhood, phimosis was strongly associated with development of invasive penile cancer (OR = 11.4, 95% CI 5.0-25.9). When we restricted our analysis to men who did not have phimosis, the risk of invasive penile cancer associated with not having been circumcised in childhood was not elevated (OR = 0.5, 95% CI 0.1-2.5). Cigarette smoking was associated with a 4.5-fold risk (95% CI 2.0-10.1) of invasive penile cancer. HPV DNA was detected in 79.8% of tumor specimens, and 69.1% of tumors were HPV16-positive. The proportion of HPV DNA-positive tumors did not vary by any risk factors evaluated. Many risk factors were common for both in situ and invasive disease. However, 3 factors that did not increase the risk for in situ cancer proved significant risk factors for invasive penile cancer: lack of circumcision during childhood, phimosis and cigarette smoking. The high percentage of HPV DNA-positive tumors in our study is consistent with a strong association between HPV infection and the development of penile cancer regardless of circumcision status. Circumcision in early childhood may help prevent penile cancer by eliminating phimosis, a significant risk factor for the disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Circumcision, Male*
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications*
  • Penile Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Penile Neoplasms / pathology
  • Penile Neoplasms / virology*
  • Phimosis / complications
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*


  • DNA, Viral